Setting Goals

Specialty coffee buyers visit the communities and estates in coffee-producing nations, known within the industry as coffee origin tours. This five-part online guide describes the purpose for hosting a coffee origin tour, and outlines steps to organize one successfully.

Part 2: Setting Goals

Planning for the coffee origin tour should begin at least one year in advance. Many strategic decisions must be made and logistics organized. Time must be allowed to advertise and invite travelers on the trip. Some may already have commitments if approached with less than a few months’ notice.

Beginning the planning effort with less time limits your audience of travelers. It also increases the likelihood of facing problems on the trip. When in doubt, take your time to begin an activity. The trip will be more effective if more time is invested into creating a thoughtful program.

To define a program agenda and invite or attract travelers on a tour, the host organization must clearly define its purpose and goals. “Selling more coffee to international buyers” is too broad a goal and requires more detail.

Answer the following questions while designing the trip:

  • Is coffee available for sale in the current season? If so, how much, what qualities, and when? This will help decide if the goal is to locate short-term buyers interested in purchasing coffees for immediate shipment or those who need time to integrate the origin into a company’s buying plan. The latter may result in a short return on investment for the activity. It may prove more valuable over future years of beneficial trade.
  • What is the best time of year? When are new harvest samples ready to cup? When is the ideal time for the seller and buyer to reach an agreement for the new crop year? Are there other events or origin programs that may conflict? Coffee traders travel often and may have other existing plans. Before advertising the travel dates, confirm availability with participants who may join.
  • Who is the ideal customer for the available coffees? (e.g., roaster or importer, from an industry segment ranging from commodity quality, through specialty, to rare and distinctive coffees, from a specific country or world region, buys single bags, palettes, or container volumes?) Matching the buyer’s interests to the needs of a host organization is one of the most critical elements of planning an origin tour. Understanding the origin quality, price offerings, and how coffees are available for shipment will determine who is interested in buying. For example, small boutique roasters will likely only purchase less-than-full-container commodity coffees. Small businesses thrive in the marketplace by offering high-quality coffees. Small businesses can only commit to small shipments, meaning that air freight or consolidation of coffee orders through specialty importers is often necessary to serve these customers. Large multinational roasting businesses or high-volume traders may need help to justify buying small lots.
  • What activities or destinations may be offered to travelers that add value? (cupping new crop samples, observing farming and practices, experiencing cultural sites and activities, meeting and strengthening relationships with producers). Coffee is the main feature but should be one of many activities of an origin tour. Cupping sessions are usually performed at an importer’s facility to provide a more relevant assessment. What the buyer gains from visiting are all those things that cannot be experienced from the coffee alone. Experiencing the authentic culture of a place, meeting its people, and learning the story of those responsible for its coffee. The trip should balance business interests with the opportunity to experience those things that make a place unique and memorable. The people, food, sights, history, and culture are all important. Include time for travelers and farmers to speak through facilitated activities. These opportunities lead to better understanding between visitor and host.
origin group meets with local community

Ko Ko Win leads a discussion between representatives of 20 farming communities and a visiting group on a coffee origin tour

  • What is the desired result, and how is success measured? The interests of each origin are unique: is the region or host seeking to build a brand image? Is there an emphasis on the current year’s sales? Are there existing trade relationships that need to be strengthened? To plan the event and measure its success, goals must be clearly defined in as much detail as possible. Choose relevant metrics. For example, tour or farmer participation, number of business transactions, value of business transactions, increased price premiums, visitor and farmer exit surveys, media articles, and impressions. Any may be used to measure success and plan for future events.
  • Who is the leader in charge of the event team and communication with the travelers? A tour director responsible for the activity must manage planning communication with hosts and travelers. Trips spanning a large farming region can involve dozens of local hosts, funding or sponsor agencies, and complex itineraries. One point of contact must be in charge of the entire trip. The same person should be the point of contact for travelers and producers to provide an efficient, cohesive experience. The leader will keep all stakeholders informed during planning and throughout the trip. Plans change, obstacles and delays are expected in coffee producing nations, so the team leader must also make executive decisions to keep things moving.
  • What are the next steps after the origin trip, and who is responsible for taking action? As with most marketing activities, origin tours are most effective when made a part of an annual marketing and communications calendar. There should be routine communication leading up to and through the tour and follow-up immediately after. Within the host organization, a stakeholder must thank tour participants, follow up with requested samples, and respond to questions. Survey participants to understand what elements of the tour were practical and what may be changed for later years to improve.

Some may find that there are better activities than an origin tour to reach the host’s goals or that the trip should be delayed to a later season. That’s okay. Consider other marketing activities better suited to the situation, like participation at an international coffee trade show event. It is always better to cancel or delay an origin tour rather than risk failing to meet expectations. A bad experience is more damaging to the host entity’s market reputation than no experience at all.

Next, Part 3: Inviting Participants